Reality Bytes: The Light Brigade is a blessed VR roguelike
Yours not to reason why
The Light Brigade has no direct relation to the British light cavalry unit made famous in the poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (which, if you head over to the poem's Wikipedia page, you can hear Tennyson himself read out via a phonograph recording from 1890 – Cool Factz!) But there is one bit of connective tissue, namely that charging into the fray is generally a bad idea. In the case of the game, that's because The Light Brigade is VR roguelike, one that blends Souls-like dark fantasy with World War II-era weaponry, with you playing a spiritually immortal but physically fragile warrior responsible for saving the world.
You start off equipped with a Gewehr-43 semi-automatic rifle and a pat on the shoulder from the leader of your I-can't-believe-it's-not-Christianity religious sect. From the ruins of the chapel that functions as the game's hub, you venture out into randomly generated environments, hunting down enemy soldiers afflicted by some crystal-based malaise. Sick though these soldiers may be, they remain alert, aggressive, and lethally accurate. Chances are you'll die quickly, but hopefully not before you've accrued enough experience to rank up. When you respawn at the chapel, you can upgrade your current class and eventually unlock new ones, helping you venture deeper into the wilderness next time.
It's a familiar collection of ideas, to the point where the Steam page's bullet-point summary gave me pause over whether to cover it. Once I'd taken the plunge and booted the game up, however, it immediately piqued my interest. See, before any of the stuff I just mentioned you first play through a brief tutorial sequence, and the first thing you do in this tutorial sequence is pray. You do this by bringing your palms together in the classic Sunday School fashion, which is slightly awkward when you're clutching two chunky oculus controllers, but looks far more dignified in the game itself.
Praying has a functional purpose in The Light Brigade. It helps you open doors, interact with certain objects, and can also be used to pinpoint enemy locations. But it's also a smart way of orienting you within The Light Brigade's world, merging the game's themes of faith and righteous conflict with the inherent tactility of VR, and helping you inhabit the psychology of the game's characters. Also, when you pray, your hands radiate with light, which would have certainly kept me from straying into atheism if it happened while being forced into saying grace.
When you pray, your hands radiate with light, which would have certainly kept me from straying into atheism if it happened while being forced into saying grace
This isn't the only small interaction that leaves a big impression in The Light Brigade. Like many VR games, The Light Brigade swaps out conventional jumping for a short-range teleport. But developers Funktronic Labs has iterated what evolved as a functional compromise into a satisfying dash manoeuvre, with you flashing forward to your designated location, accompanied by an ethereal tinkling. Its primary use is for scaling the environment, but it's equally useful for swooping between cover when the enemy zeroes in on you.
Combat itself veers between tense standoffs and frenetic close encounters. The World War II-era weaponry lends The Light Brigade's Christocentric fantasy world are more particular flavour, while also being fantastic to grapple with from a VR perspective. Shoving clips into mag-wells, pulling back bolts and sliders, lining up your iron-sights while enemy bullets patter against the rocks and ruins around you, it's good stuff. It can feel a touch static at times, Enemies tend not to move around much, while the starting rifleman class is best played by crouching behind a tree and taking potshots at enemies until they fall over. Other classes like the scout and pistoleer are more dynamic, with their respective M3 Mauser submachinegun and twin Colt 1911 pistols requiring you to get closer to enemies to be effective.
As roguelikes go, the Light Brigade isn't as tough as it first appears. The sliver of health you start with means you can be killed in a couple of shots, but it's fairly easy to avoid taking damage, as cover is plentiful and enemies telegraph their attacks. If you do die, you get two chances to reclaim your body before it's Game Over, which is easier to do once you know where everyone is. I managed to reach and defeat the first boss on my third run. It's challenging, but not punishing.
The Light Brigade also features an impressive number of ways to tailor your character. There are five different classes, each of which has unique weapons and Light-Based "spells", such a temporary shield of light the rifleman can deploy. Weapons can be customised with attachments found in the field or purchased from vendors, like a barrel attachment I stumbled upon that made my bullets deal poison damage. You'll also encounter sparkling chests containing "tarot" cards scattered through levels, which provide slight but significant stat boosts. These feel a tad out of place in the broader game, but I'll forgive this purely because of the fantastic holographic effect these cards have in VR.
My only real gripe with The Light Brigade is that visually it's a bit basic. Its semi cel-shaded art style is pleasant enough, but it can't conceal the sparse, cramped nature of the environments. Animations can be rough too, particularly on the wolf enemies that appear to be running through treacle. None of this is a deal-breaker, just don't go in expecting to have your breath taken away.
For just shy of twenty quid, The Light Brigade brings a lot to the table. It lacks the big, gimmicky hooks many VR games rely on, instead weaving together an array of smaller, thoughtfully implemented ideas that I found more enticing than I anticipated. I won't say I'm a complete convert to the Light Brigade's truth, but neither would I slam the door in its face if it came to discuss the hereafter.